First grown in……..yes, Belgium around 1750. They were introduced to the UK aound 1800 and have been a source of many mealtime arguments between parents and childen ever since.
Jokes aside, Brussel sprouts when properly cooked, are an enjoyable part of winter, although if you really love them you can start harvesting early varieties at the end of August!
For the sweetest taste, i.e. ones children are more likely to eat, try Trafalgar, Maximus or Silverline ( all F1 hybrids). They taste even sweeter if harvested after the first frosts. This is because the plants produce their own antifreeze by converting some of the starch to sugars.
If you want a long cropping season, try Cascade or Bosworth F1 hybrids.
Varieties that boast resistance to club root are worth looking out for if this has been a problem in your garden previously.
For the best quality sprouts, pick before they start to open up. On most varieties the sprouts start to mature from the bottom of the plant upwards.
Don’t forget that you can also eat the head of the plant, using it like cabbage.
Traditionally gardeners have grown sprouts in firm ground, but modern varieties can cope with recently turned soil with out falling over.
Brussel sprouts require a moist soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost or rotted manure.
For Autumn-Winter cropping, sow outdoors mid-March to mid-April. Transplant in late summer. It is worth planting them in an area that didn’t contain brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, etc) the previous year to avoid a build up of pest in the soil.
Pests & Problems
Pigeons have a taste for young sprout plants. Protect with netting.
You will also need to provide protection against cabbage root fly. You can use a close fitting collar that acts as a barrier around the plant, stopping eggs being laid close to the plant roots. You can buy cabbage root fly collars or make your own from old carpet, cardboard or other barrier material. Make sure you peg them down if they are light weight.
For most other problems, covering the plants with horticultural fleece will keep the bugs out and keep your Brussels healthy.